Author: Lisa Haugaard
Honduran President Xiomara Castro was inaugurated on January 27, 2022, ushering in a new era of hope for Hondurans who had endured successive repressive governments since the 2009 coup. In an emotional moment during the inauguration, Castro met with Berta Zúñiga, the current leader of indigenous organization COPINH and daughter of slain environmental activist Berta Cáceres. At this hopeful moment, we congratulate Honduran social movements that braved the repression to uphold their dream of a more just nation, and we congratulate you, who organized to support them.
Since the Biden Administration took office, LAWG had been advocating with the Biden Administration to distance itself from the corrupt then-President Juan Orlando Hernández and his allies. Now, we are urging the administration and Congress to support efforts by the new government and Honduran human rights defenders to tackle corruption and impunity and restore space for civil society groups to organize.
We are already seeing signs of a new approach – such as the Biden Administration’s quick recognition of Xiomara Castro’s electoral win, its outreach to Castro’s transition team, and Vice President Harris’s attendance at Xiomara Castro’s inauguration. A marked signal of change in U.S. policy was the recent revelation that the Biden Administration had blocked then-President Juan Orlando Hernández from visiting the United States by imposing visa sanctions since July 2021—and the issuance of a request for extradition to the United States the moment he left office. Now, we have been advocating with the administration to encourage and actively support the new government’s efforts to fight corruption and address long-standing human rights abuses.
The new Honduran government and legislature have moved quickly on some fronts. President Castro formally invited the United Nations to set up an international anti-corruption mechanism similar to the CICIG in Guatemala—and the United States has expressed interest in providing funding should it be launched. The legislature, which had appeared starkly divided with, briefly, two competing presidents, united behind initial steps to tackle corruption. This included revoking the so-called “Law of Secrets” that blocked public access to government information and restoring the right of the Attorney General’s office to investigate members of Congress implicated in corruption.
But these new changes will not go over easily in Honduras. The forces of corruption will try to block and influence the new government. And the threats and attacks facing human rights defenders in Honduras won’t simply cease with a new government, even with the best intentions, as they emanate from a complex web of corrupt officials, security forces, and companies.
And it’s not going to be easy to transform U.S. policy towards Honduras. It’s great that the Biden Administration is planning to back efforts to address corruption and that the United States has finally turned its back on Juan Orlando Hernández. But it’s far less clear that the Biden Administration will support progressive economic programs or support efforts to rein in extractive industries or the ZEDES investment zones, should the Honduran government go in that direction. We have serious questions about U.S. plans to attract investments for Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—including whether such investments will be screened to ensure compliance with labor rights and environmental standards and to avoid investing in corrupt companies or projects that violate community rights.
What we do know is this: the United States, which helped to create the human rights nightmare that Hondurans have endured since 2009, now has the chance and the moral obligation to change course.